Processing: AIR 2016 (part two)
In the midst of the tea mania, I began work on another part of the series. This is also the point where my "processing" theme came clearly into view. With so many ideas and directions swirling in my head - with limited time and a mentorship opportunity that I wanted to make the most of - I had to keep reining things in and figure out how it would all connect. This is where I decided that the work would be limited to the mountain and all other projects would be studies to assist these main works. (And I would revisit the other pieces after the residency.)
This 3-dimensional project was quite thrilling to work on. I planned to create a miniature version as a test piece but soon realized that if I truly wanted to know how the materials would behave, I had to dive into the large piece. The miniature version emerged again about half-way through its big brother's completion.
Using recycled cardboard, the mountain faces began to take form. Each piece of the puzzle measured, bent and formed into the next. It was taking shape as I had envisioned! I loved it just like this but knew it wasn't done yet.
The next step was to seal the cardboard and prep it for its next layers. And here, my project underwent an overhaul. I loved the all white version and wrestled with whether or not to continue. But, realizing that I was facing the fear of ruining it, I decided to dive right back in. I wasn't here to play it safe. So, I dove in and... loathed how it was unfolding. Later that afternoon we had a small group critique and even after everyone's encouragement, I knew that I had to shift gears and immediately afterward began to therapeutically scrape off what I had done. (I hated it so much I won't even show you that mess!)
Seeing the mountain range again in white, I had a personal artistic epiphany. I had an awareness of depth and light and shadows like never before. Everything came into focus. The miniature wood panel then became a study in gradient light and colour as I examined how the natural light hit and reflected off of the 3-dimensional work.
After a study in mixing neutrals and creating a proper gradient (thanks, Alma!) each colour was mixed and applied based on the natural light study, but with a greater range. Here I had flashbacks to my time with "Foxy Loxy" where I would think I was finished but after the paint dried I'd see areas that needed touching up, wouldn't have enough paint to do so, and would have to mix more paint to match the first coats - another test of patience and precision!
I am so glad that I was able to discern what was fear and when to listen to that inner critic. Working in a studio with other artists this summer confirmed my suspicions that we've all got that inner chatterbox, critiquing and questioning things at every stage. It's hard to "unsee" your work, viewing with fresh and unbiased eyes... and it's very ease to rip it apart. But knowing when to listen to that voice and when to silence it is an integral part of the process. Having mentors and fellow artists to talk through the process is even better.
Coming this week: part three of my artist in residency experience!
Processing: AIR 2016 (part one)
I've just wrapped up Six Weeks In The Studio, a mentored artist residency through the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo. I had applied for the first session, that was to take place in May/June; which had to be cancelled due to our city's evacuation. When we returned I was given the opportunity to reapply for a revamped session and I'm so glad that, even in these crazy times, I jumped into it with both feet. It has been a most beautiful way to start anew.
Two mentor artists, Alma Louise Visscher and Kritsana Naowakhun, offered group sessions as well as met with us one-on-one to challenge and refine us. I am so grateful for everything they poured into us as I took full advantage of this opportunity in front of me. Gleaning from artists I admire, as well as being able to get real-time feedback in the studio was invaluable. They both have a way in coming alongside of you, pushing us to be better but still allowing us to stay true to our artistic voice and vision.
I came into the program with goals to explore light, shadows, depth and colour on a more intensive level. And with a short time frame, I knew I'd need to focus my projects as soon as possible so I could dive in and experiment but also know where I was headed. My artistic approach is much more thematic based, rather than medium based. I allow each piece to dictate the best medium to use - that freedom is incredibly fulfilling!
Over the next days I will share the finished works, some works that never made it to the final exhibition and pieces of the process behind the scenes. I began to rework and experiment with ideas that I had been exploring over the past months, seeing where it would take me and running with the ideas that came to mind. "The process" became my guiding concept, with the mountain serving as my visual metaphor.
My work is rooted in natural elements. My practice is in response to what, I believe, is an unfolding story revealed to us through Creation. Drawing inspiration from the natural world, I chose the mountain as my subject of study for this residency. Exploring a variety of techniques, the work was approached as a process, one work leading into the next; breaking a grand mountain range to its simplified forms. Through this process of fragmentation I explored simplified visual elements to approach each project from a different point of view. Throughout the creative process I found that I was drawn to natural and recycled materials, like tea and cardboard. The mountain was both an elemental study and a conceptual metaphor for working through and processing challenges we face.
Early on, the house was filled with the aroma of hundreds of bags of tea being steeped for my artistic purposes. Embroidery thread was dyed in bowls of green tea and cider, berry tea and chai. More thread went for a dunk in simmering pots of dried chamomile and lavender flowers. The liquid was then poured into mason jars to be used to paint canvas and watercolour paper. (The flower liquid went rancid quite quickly... good to know.) Some of my experiments went along as planned or better - and others... well, they led to failure and frustration. But, as Alma encouraged me, sometimes the best art comes from the "failures". Problem solving and adapting to my natural medium's limitations caused some projects to be abandoned down the road and others to morph into something new. I love that about the artistic process.
What resulted is the following two works, a small "watercolour" study using tea as the colour and a larger more intensive work, embroidering the dyed thread onto canvas. These two are available to purchase and on display at the MacDonald Island Community Art Gallery. Stay tuned for numbers 3 and 4 of the series!
An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail. - Dr. Edwin Land
Plein Air: Mini-Series
This lovely plein air "palette" cleanser has become part of my routine as of late and it is quite rejuvenating! Plus, my love and appreciation for watercolour has been reignited. Win, win! There's something about getting outside that makes me breathe a little deeper and slower - it gives me perspective. Paying attention to our surroundings and perhaps even considering how all things work together can only be done when we actually stop and give heed to what's around us.
I've always loved tiny, miniature things. This spring, while on a bike ride, I came up with an idea to do a series of plein air (french for "in the open air" - so basically a fancy way to say that you paint outside) paintings. I had the specific intention of doing them on a small scale. Although I have been occupied with work for my solo exhibit in February, I knew that this project would help me in the long-run. I have a tendency to become project orientated, which can become problematic when I don't ever come up to breathe! So, this idea was birthed out of a need to take breathers in my day - to step outside and regroup. I knew that I could easily transport watercolour materials around with me, whether that was on foot, by bike, or driving to a destination. The first piece began on a hillside in Borealis Park, overlooking a perfect reflection of the Syne, a sandwich in hand.
I took along my supplies and painted away while we camped in Waterton National Park - letting the prairie-to-the-mountain landscape, as well as the mood of the weather, guide me along. I was finding inspiration around everywhere!
I've been experimenting with a variety of watercolour tools, combining them with both water-soluble and waterproof ink. Incorporating different techniques has been refreshing as well - and I found myself brainstorming how I could later recreate some of the effects that organically happened simply by working outside (like strong, gusty, warm winds blowing across the page!)
I arrived home with quite a number of finished work to add to the pile of plein air pieces and happily arranged them into white mats and frames. I'm keeping a number of them under wraps for just a little while before I make them available for purchase. Now I'm off to find the subject of my next miniature painting!
Fine Feathered Friends
When we traveled to Waterton, earlier than usual this summer, I hoped to find the Mountain Bluebird. I knew where they were but had always missed them. And when I saw "Blue Bird Sky" on the menu for the Waterton Wildflower Festival, I was all over it. I was over the moon to finally see the brilliant blue birdie sitting on the fence and I loved to learn more about them (as well as other birds and all about the fescue grassland they were surrounded by) from our lovely presenter, Kim Pearson.
A couple of days later we took in "Early Bird Chorus", waking up with the early summer sunrise to go birdwatching with David Musto. I was in absolute awe of his bird knowledge, in particular his ear for deciphering the intricacies of each bird's song. We'd be standing quietly on location and he'd pick out a bird song, identify it based on its musical qualities and then magically show us its location. Truly, it was inspiring.
We saw so many birds that morning but most of them were a great challenge to photograph considering their distance from us. I cooed, oohed and aahed at the House Wren, which I find completely adorable. And one woman from our group had a Lazuli Bunting sighting on her wishlist, so David took us to another location and found her one. What a stunning bird. I hope to see one again at a closer distance. I was sure happy to have our binoculars in hand and the early morning rise was more than worth it. The world is quiet and peaceful as the sun comes up, and the chorus of bird song made my heart happy.
We made our way on our own to observe the Mountain Bluebirds two more times in the evening light and they delighted us by taking turns watching over their nest. Thank you, my fine feathered friends.
Foxy Loxy is all dressed up!
This project has been an invaluable learning experience. The biggest surprise was the hours it would take to complete it. Over 3 1/2 months I have put in approximately 100 hours. And now, looking back, I can see why. He became like a complicated puzzle, colours weaving in and out - and each piece painted with no larger than a size 8 flat brush (and most of the time my tools of choice were #2 and #4 flat brushes). I found myself wondering if there was a faster, more efficient, way of approaching this project but the only thing I would have done differently is to apply a good 2-3 coats of white as a base layer in the beginning. (Which would not have necessarily saved me time in the end, it would have just given me a smooth surface to paint on in the beginning, and perhaps saved me a coat of colour as the grey base sucked up that first coat.) Perhaps next time my design would be inspired by an arctic fox in a blizzard. (Just kidding...maybe.)
Last weekend I put in some marathon sessions in order to get it completed (much to the chagrin of my body). It was quite a challenge to precisely remix colours for touch-ups but patience has been the theme throughout my time with Foxy Loxy. And putting this many hours in means that I have challenged, and hopefully improved, my skill set along the way.
As I have mentioned in practically every other post about this project, it was a challenge taking a 2D design and adapting it for 3D. Every artist in the project that I have spoken to has felt the same way. It seems obvious now but the unique shape of the sculpture had us strategizing how to navigate our original designs. Using a ruler was no longer an option and even painters tape had to be manipulated in order to make me the lines I desired. Plus, I had the sides, underbelly and back to consider as well. I had originally planned to have the lines exactly mirrored throughout but it was apparent upon first fox sighting that my plan would have to be drastically revised. It was a tremendous challenge painting in all the nooks and crannies, making sure that the lines of my design were clean and had continuity. This fox spent a lot of time balanced upside down and in all sorts of precarious positions (as did I!!) It has been quite the experience in making him come to life!
I opted to work in the hallway outside the Syne Room as much as I could (better air flow, it was quieter, and I had a more preferable mix of lighting). It was always nice to have inquiries and encouragement from those passing by me while I was painting. And in the final days I had many inquire as to the meaning behind his design - questions that I had not received until this point. I absolutely loved being able to tell Foxy Loxy's story to all those who asked. I have kept much under wraps to give myself freedom to adapt and change as necessary so it has been exciting to reveal it all now! I am so pleased with the finished work and can hardly wait until his installation, along with his other fox buddies, along the trail system. What a cool project to be part of - I am so blessed!
"Inspired by our Northern Alberta landscape, I created my design concept to feature the beauty of our region and the familiar, natural setting by which we are surrounded. In light of our diversity as citizens of Fort McMurray, our experiences with the natural surroundings are something that unifies us. There is nothing quite like watching the Northern sky change brilliant shades of purple, red and pink as the sun sets - or being blanketed in the warming rays of sunshine on a long, summer day.
This design focuses on the plentiful wetlands in our region, with the bottom half of the fox containing the cattails and grasses of these marshes, and the top portion abstractly depicting the reflected rays of sunlight.
As our region is nestled in the diverse boreal forest, I wanted my design to be anchored by that landscape, drawing the greens of the painted sculpture into the ground of the natural settings along the trail in which they would be installed. The colour choices are intended to highlight the vibrancy of what we see with our eye by making them familiar but intensifying the shades used in order to evoke more of the emotional experience we may have in these surroundings.
As the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, we are diverse in people as well as our natural surroundings. The design weaves colours and lines in and out, to create one cohesive design. Each colour, each ray of light, each blade of grass, and each cattail was painted as an individual entity but it relies on the shapes and colours around it to bring this cohesiveness and unity."
I want to say a big thank you to each and every person who spoke words of encouragement along the way. I am so appreciative for each inquiring mind and each thoughtful word. (It can be difficult to separate yourself from your work and encouragers can certainly get you back on track and give you a good dose of reality.) There are many I could thank by name, but I fear leaving someone out! Thank you to the Regional Recreation Corporation of Wood Buffalo for the wonderful opportunity and for supporting the arts in Fort McMurray. Thank you for providing us with a place at MacDonald Island to work away! It is such a joy to be part of this community, especially as we see the arts come alive here. The investment is necessary and adds so much value to our community. Thank you, thank you, thank you.
Patience. This project has been a test in patience. There is simply no rushing the process. I find my mind wandered as I painted this week, thinking about all the ways that I could have improved the process in order to be further along. Aside from one thing I'd do differently, there is no fast-track for this design. Oh, there's lessons to learn in every nook and cranny of our lives!
There was a tremendous sense of relief yesterday as I finished the base coat for the bottom half design. No more grey - no more empty spaces. (I may have even broke out into the "Hallelujah Chorus".) This week, due to a particularly noisy fan in the Snye room, I moved into the hallway. It was nice to have an occasional passerby to connect with and I certainly appreciated the encouraging, inquisitive remarks. Earlier in the week I had a parade of tutu-ed mini ballerinas peeking into the room to see what I was up to. I was thankful for the adorable visitors.
The whole project is really quite remarkable and we are all so eager to see the installation in place. Our curious minds will have to wait to see how it all comes together in the great outdoors! Next week: a palette of green!
I think I've lost count. Foxy Loxy and I have spent many hours together now. Today I finished painting the outline of the bottom half, nearly standing on my head (and putting Foxy on his) in order to get every nook and cranny accounted for. As I mentioned in the beginning, one of the biggest challenges has been taking a 2D design and transferring that to a 3-dimensional object. But challenged accepted and challenge complete! Now that the last section has been painted on, it's time for a white base-coat layer to clearly mark out the criss-crossing cattails. He's coming together!
The Miquwahkesis Project: Day Nine
The process for the bottom half is completely different than the line taping madness of the top. Using an acrylic paint marker, I am drawing the details free-hand. The hard lines of the top are contrasted with the curves I'm creating now - but they are both endlessly weaving in and out.
There is a bit of fearlessness that I've had to tap into for this project, as my two dimensional design has been adapted to the nooks and crannies of my 3D reality. From the very beginning I realized that I wouldn't be able to sketch the entire design onto the fox. Rather, I'd have to trust the process and trust myself to make the creative decisions along the way. It was quite daunting to begin drawing over all the stage one painting - what if I slipped? What if I made a poor choice of lines? I had to choose to be fearless and go for it. My favourite experiences and works as an artist come from that choice. It's always good to let go.
The Miquwahkesis Project: Day Eight
I took a break from Foxy Loxy over the holidays. Today, I finally finished stage one. I just might be able to put away the tape! With two more stages to go (the bottom half and then touch-ups) I am excited to begin drawing out the bottom details next week and start with a new array of colours. A palette cleanse is in order! The next challenge will be navigating through the smaller surface area of his legs, tail and belly. I'm going to have to figure out a way to secure him upside down in order to paint with precision... I will MacGyver something - stay tuned!
The Miquwahkesis Project: Day Seven
Today's colour palette is brought to you by the creamsicle - and boy, did I ever have a hankerin' for one! This week's challenge has been in mixing new colours and precisely re-mixing previous colours for touch-ups. It has been very rewarding to fill in those final empty spaces on the top half - almost there! I think I should have bought shares in painters tape before I began, though. The taping process has been time consuming but it's worth it to get the results I desire.
Make a trip down to the gallery at MacDonald Island tomorrow night to watch me tackle the rest of Foxy Loxy's knobbly head and the method behind all this taping madness! There will be a number of us at work as well as an exhibition of finished foxes in the gallery. You will find the opening in the Community Gallery - the hallway just off the fitness centre upstairs. The artists at work will be in the Syne Room, the last room in the hallway. Looking forward to seeing you there!